Well, this has been nice, hasn’t it? All this unanticipated bonus time with our families, the people we love more than anything in the world; the people for whom we would give our last breaths to save. The people who help fulfill us, who make our lives meaningful, and for whom we yearn when separated for long periods of time. What a gift, truly, to be given this (please God) once in a lifetime opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level, as the hustle and bustle of normal life have been stripped away. My goodness, what a treat this has been. An absolute TREAT.
You may have noted a hint of sarcasm.
Here’s the truth: despite our love for our families, the past five months have been extremely challenging (devastating, actually, if you or a loved one have been ill or died). Parents are juggling working from home while taking care of their children, overseeing remote learning, losing income, trying to find interesting and engaging but safe activities for their families, worrying about their children’s mental and physical health, hoping that they don’t get sick themselves, debating whether to move to a “safer” area, and not being able to see friends and loved ones, just to name a few of the hardships.
And yet, as New York City (which I’ve called home since 1986) has started to reopen, and with one of my three children about to go back to school in person, the relief that I was expecting to feel has surprisingly been tempered with a bit of dread; despite my complaining constantly about the pandemic and bemoaning the many disasters it has caused, there is a part of me that is mourning the impending loss of the cocoon my family has been living in since mid-March.
One of my favorite (yes, I said favorite) aspects of our months’ long, pared-down life is that I have barely experienced any FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), either for myself or on behalf of my children. Gone is the pressure to make social engagements. Gone is my constant, internalized competitiveness about whether my plans are “good enough.” My family has spent a lot of (socially-distanced) time with a small number of other families, and we’ve grown much closer with them as a result. I don’t even think about what other people might be doing in their free time, because there’s just not a lot that I would feel safe doing. On a related note, because we’re barely socializing, I haven’t been focusing on how I look (not great, for the record) or what I’m wearing (usually exercise pants, but they’re for eating, not for exercising).
In our “pandemic life” my husband works from home, and can therefore interact and help with the kids throughout the day. Even if it’s just to pop in and say hello here and there, our kids are still seeing their father more than they usually do. In addition, he and I have been cooking dinner almost every night, and we are eating as a family. In our “real life” we generally order in dinner and the five of us eat at different times, depending on our schedules.
Because our children did remote learning in the spring and because their afterschool and weekend activities were cancelled, I had very limited agita with respect to getting anywhere on time and sorting out how to handle conflicting activities. Then, in June, their sleep away camps and day camp were cancelled. Because of that, our youngest child, four, has gotten to spend way more time with his brother and sister, who are seven and nine years older than he, respectively. Because of their large age gap, it sometimes felt like our youngest was an only child, because he and his siblings were on such different schedules. Now, the three of them are together a lot. A LOT. Is it always pleasant? No. Are they making mostly happy memories together? Also no. But do I think they’ve grown closer because of the extra time together? Yes.
For the past five months, we’ve been fortunate to spend a great deal of time outdoors with nature, which has been found to improve mental health. We take long walks, appreciate the sound of leaves stirring in the breeze, watch the variable speed of passing clouds, and observe wild animals like deer, rabbits, birds, turtles and hedgehogs. In our real lives, we are too harried to pause and notice our surroundings, and the only nature we see regularly are pigeons, rats, and the occasional cockroach.
And, finally, here’s one of my favorites: the pandemic is a built-in excuse for everything! How many times have you said, over the past five months, “I’m so sorry that I can’t/didn’t [insert whatever you’re sorry about]. Things have been SO crazy. Can you even believe this is happening???” And the best part is, you’re not even lying. When the pandemic ends, we’re going to have to start getting creative with our excuses for being antisocial/lazy/awkward/late again. And, when those excuses fail, we’ll be forced into those awkward hugs and cheek kisses when introduced to strangers.
I know the pandemic is far from over. I’m aware that it has sickened over 27 million people worldwide, and killed over 900,000. I am desperate for it to end so that no one else will get sick, and so that we can go back to our real lives. There is not an ounce of me that feels like the pandemic was a blessing in any way. And yet there is a part of me that will miss our family’s little bubble and the simplicity that it afforded us for so long.